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“Framing Dropouts” Revisited

Fifteen years ago Michelle Fine, at that time a professor at University of Pennsylvania published a transformational work entitled “Reframing Dropouts: Notes on the Politics of an Urban Public High School.” Fine spent a year in a New York City comprehensive high school that she called CHS. She interviewed school staff, students and parents, attended meetings, sat in on classrooms and interviewed dropouts. She paints a chilling portrait of a school organized around “efficiency and control” in which a caring staff was “disempowered,” ignored and marginalized by the school administration.

Scores, sometimes hundreds of class size grievances were the norm each term. Fine paraphrases the UFT chair, “The notion that teachers are professionals who carry expertise, who should be trusted and consulted, and who deserve a share of school-based authority … were received by the administration as idiosyncratic and irresponsible.”

In spite of convoluted BOE statistics Fine shows that in the mid eighties only 20% of an entering cohort earned a diploma after six years.

What happened to the dropouts?

Incarceration, out-of-wedlock births, single parenthood, staggering AIDs rates, persistent unemployment and the continuing pathology of poverty in era when a high school diploma only assures a minimum wage.

Fifteen years later has anything changed?

The Kleinberg administration “innovations”?

 • they reduced the number of credits from ten to eight to move from the freshman to sophomore years – at that rate it will take a student six years to graduate if they pass ALL their subjects

• Long term absences (students absent at least twenty days in a row) are removed from school registers and are not reflected in average daily attendance figures.

 • In many school inept scanning results in enormous lateness and/or absence during the first period class.

• Cutting data is difficult to access and not reflected in school data.

 A philosophy of “efficiency and control” still dominates the management of the school system.

After eradicating a host of alternative programs that took decades to development the DOE decides that maybe they are a good idea. Of course, the folk that designed and supported the programs have been driven out of the system. The recycled programs are staggering, suffering from the poor leadership that is characteristic of this administration.

“I do the best job I can in my classroom” is the mantra of teachers. The persons who have the most influence on the lives of children: teachers, are disempowered by a system driven by press releases.

Unfortunately, in the large urban high schools, fifteen years later, nothing has changed. Heroic teachers struggle in a school system that ignores a structure that allows generations of students to drift into a life of poverty and despair.



  • 1 NYC Educator
    · Dec 30, 2005 at 12:56 pm

    Please stop being such a Gloomy Gus, and look at the bright side.

  • 2 Chaz
    · Dec 30, 2005 at 6:08 pm


    Top down management does not work; We all know that. However, until the classroom teacher has full control of the classroom, nothing will ever change.

    NYC Educator;

    The bright side is that Peter Goodman wrote the article. The article could have been written by Leo Casey in which case you would first, need a translator and second, an article that has nothing to do with classroom teaching

  • 3 NaniRolls
    · Dec 31, 2005 at 12:47 am

    funny. cut data doesn’t have to be difficult to access. i get a cut report on my students once every one or two weeks!

  • 4 Persam1197
    · Dec 31, 2005 at 9:34 am

    NYC Educator, that was beautiful writing. What was left out was making potty patrol, cafeteria duty, and hallway monitoring the bright side of our day. I just can’t wait to be a bathroom attendant. Perhaps when I get my PhD I can be affectionately known as Dr. Potty. Thank God Circular 6R is now such a valuable educational tool! I especially enjoyed “anonoymous” who maudlinly couldn’t understand why no one would listen to him about vouchers. I expect to hear more here within a day or two.

    As for “Framing Dropouts,” I couldn’t agree more. It just amazes me that with the advent of mass produced small schools and the further erosion of vocational training in the large schools (e.g. George Washington H.S. automotive training), that the powers that be really believe that Balanced Lunacy, Ramp Down, etc. are going to really make illiterate teens marketable in the few remaining years they have left. We’ve gotten rid of programs that engage teens like instrumental music, art, dance, shop, and most of all vocational training for those who are not going to college.

    Privatization has already been at work in the NYC system. We now send kids to APEX tech to learn trades they once learned in school.

  • 5 NYC Educator
    · Dec 31, 2005 at 3:20 pm

    “NYC Educator, that was beautiful writing.”

    Thanks very much for the compliment, but it was not I who wrote that piece.

  • 6 oldpro
    · Dec 31, 2005 at 4:32 pm

    Hats off to Persam1197,

    The new academic high school and the regents plans only allow some kids to get through. All student centered hands on programs have been replaced with strange new curriculum and special drop out programs.

    The NY Post reported and sharp increase in Principal Suspensions. The same time the police reported a 17 year low in crime rate. One Queens High School which calls itself a school of excellence was no 2.

    Congratulations to the Principal.

  • 7 no_slappz
    · Dec 31, 2005 at 5:56 pm

    Persam, you wrote:

    “What was left out was making potty patrol, cafeteria duty, and hallway monitoring the bright side of our day. I just can’t wait to be a bathroom attendant.”

    Not one private-school teacher I know is saddled with these humiliating chores. On a related note, however, is this: the mens-room attendants at the Waldorf, Palace and several other hotels are well compensated by generous tippers. In private industry there is competition for the opportunity to turn on the water in the sink, squirt the soap and hand out towels because the pay this no-skill job isn’t bad and the customers are friendly.

  • 8 Persam1197
    · Jan 1, 2006 at 11:29 am

    NYC Educator,

    Thanks for sharing then.

  • 9 NYC Educator
    · Jan 1, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    You’re very welcome, and there’s plenty more in this new blog.

    I agree with your other comments completely, by the way. It’s a disgrace that vocational training and the arts are seen as having no value whatsoever in Bloomberg’s test-driven, short-sighted “vision” for NYC schools.

  • 10 oldpro
    · Jan 1, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    NYC educator,

    Don’t blame Bloomberg for everything.
    High School was Algeba, Geometry, and Intermediate Algebra for as far back as I can remember. The one day along comes Sequential Math 1m 2 and 3. New Books, Curriculum, Teacher Training, etc.
    The along comes Math A and later Math B.
    New Books, Curriculum, Teacher Training etc. Now it has been announced that in 2 years it is back to Algebra, Geometry and Intermediate Algebra. Now we need New Books, Curriculum, Teacher Training etc.

    Then schools offer the pre algebra, 2 year algebra course and this completes the ACADEMIC math requirement.

    Speak about vocational training, after 12 years of math, many students can not compute their hourly earnings,write a check, keep a checkbook or even make change of dollar.

    What are the odds that the Biology replacement, Living Enviornment will be renamed in a few years.

    What is going on?

  • 11 NYC Educator
    · Jan 1, 2006 at 8:31 pm

    “…many students can not compute their hourly earnings,write a check, keep a checkbook or even make change of dollar.”

    I’ve seen kids in high school who couldn’t read, and I’ve seen this problem passed on, shrugged off, and treated as though it meant little or nothing. I’ve also discovered that NYC has no program whatsoever to deal with these kids, and that many, many teachers can go entire semesters without detecting this problem.

    I do not blame Bloomberg for everything. Nonetheless, I do not think the problems we mentioned are anywhere near as important to him as, say, sports stadiums for needy billionaires.

    You should know by know, oldpro, that it’s vital programs be changed every few years so that millions of textbooks can be sold at list price to schools all over the country.

    Whee are your values, for goodness sake?

  • 12 Chaz
    · Jan 1, 2006 at 8:51 pm


    Good for the principal of that Queens school. Zero tolerance for bad student behavior is what works. Otherwise, it sends the wrong message to the student body.

    They are a school of excellence when they care more about the average student than consuling the knuckleheads and allowing them to run the halls and disrespect the teacher.

  • 13 Persam1197
    · Jan 2, 2006 at 6:58 am

    Boy, do I feel like a prophet. The voice of profit has returned.

    Private school teachers have the same issues we in the public sector have. It’s naive to think that there’s educational nirvana out there in voucherland. Even “top” schools like the Anglo-American School have non-professional duties for staff. In fact, they have it worse with low pay and politically connected parents pushing Ivy-league for their kids. If voucherland was so great, there wouldn’t be so many job openings available in the Times. In fact, I know a few teachers who quit if anyone’s interested in a salary in the high 20’s and low 30’s.

  • 14 phyllis c. murray
    · Jan 2, 2006 at 10:27 am

    Teacher Stress: Past and Present
    By Phyllis C. Murray

    In 1979, The New York State United Teachers had made it evident that teaching was identifiably one of the most stress filled professions. NYSUT had been zeroing in on the causes of stress among teachers. In order to do this, their research division conducted a May’79 survey on a representative group of teachers. The data sheet was designed to elicit those situations which were most stressful. The items listed were arranged in order of intensity. The top ten items created the most stress: (3)


    It might be noted that urban teachers reported over three times more items as stressful than the rural teachers and almost twice as many items as suburban teachers. Also evident was the fact that the 31 to 40 year old teachers appeared to be under greater stress with the 41 to 50 year old teachers reporting only half as many items as stressful and teachers over 50 reporting even fewer items.(3)

    Effects of Stress

    Doctors have noted that continued and prolonged periods of stress results in a disabling condition for the person affected. Many diseases are associated with or aggravated by stress: ulcers, migraines, asthma, ulcerative colitis and especially coronary heart disease. Prior to the onset of the conditions enumerated above, other symptoms occur. There may be indecision, reduced appetite, loss of weight, irregular bowel movement, headache, backache, skin rashes, insomnia, nervousness, tremors, poor memory and irritability.(6)

    Teachers are not exempted from these conditions. Labeled Battered Teacher Syndrome, a psychiatrist found that many teachers were exhibiting the same classic symptoms of combat fatigue which faced front-line soldiers. These symptoms included depression, anxiety, hypertension, nightmares, blurred vision and ulcers.(1)

    A stress survey conducted by the Chicago Teachers’ Union in ‘ 79 showed similar results with reports from teachers of hypertension, ulcers, colitis, insomnia, migraines, skin problems and lowered resistance to upper respiratory infection.(1)

    Stress and Emotional and Psychological Fears

    Fear of bodily harm from a student or parent or intruder can be a source of stress. To see a fellow teacher injured or attacked can often be as upsetting to the onlooker as it is to the one harmed. Teacher assaults, termed battered Teacher Syndrome, account for a kind of battle fatigue in classrooms. In 1979, New York City, school crimes had risen 16% over the past year.(1) Teachers were often robbed at gun and knife point and assaulted with pipes and chains. Nationally, more then 5,000 teachers were attacked in school during a month. (1) Of smaller magnitude were the often daily incidents of insubordination in the teacher/pupil relationships i.e. failure to perform appropriate tasks, verbal abuse. Today, the schools have become mini-prisons. There is a police presence in some high schools. Metal detectors, lock-downs, and hall patrols by security guards are visible. Teacher Stress is a day to day reality in the urban setting.

    Proposal for Resolving Stress in the Classroom

    As a result of the NYSUT Stress Survey, the major stress factor was diagnosed as the disruptive child in the classroom. To zero in on this problem, fifty teachers throughout the state received leadership training in how to deal with stress in the classroom. They were asked to go back to their districts and confer with every teacher in a workshop-type environment. Hence, every teacher in the state would benefit from their training.(3) In schools that experienced a high level of disruptions, a task force was created to administer psychological first aid to the battered teacher.

    Although the above proposals or initiatives are commendable, other alternatives have always been present. If one were to examine the UFT contract, he would note the specifics for resolving the problem of the disruptive child. If one were to also examine New York School Law, one would realize that no child as the right to interrupt the education of the group. If the child is disruptive because of an emotional or physical handicap, he must be placed in the most appropriate and least restrictive environment. If parents are neglecting their responsibility as parents, there are provisions under the Bureau of Child Welfare to address and ameliorate these problems.


    The burden or responsibility for staying in control of ones health must not be totally relegated to others. Although changes in working conditions are not won singularly, each member participates as an integral part of the union body. The members must see that the grievance machinery is operable and use it. Workshops on stress, resource materials and resource persons are made available to members through the union. The members must also follow the contract with all its safeguards. And since the goals of the union are not in conflict with the goals of the students, both students and teacher serve to gain.

    The political arm of the union must see that there is accountability from public officials. Quality education must be a priority in the city. It cannot be used as a negotiable item at the onset of each fiscal crisis by politicians. Nor must community groups use students as pawns in disputes within the community vs a vis parent/teacher conflicts or parent/administration conflicts. If we can find the school that meets the needs of each student, we will find an effective school devoid of the type of debilitating stress ineffectiveness breeds.

    Phyllis C. Murray
    UFT Chapter Leader

    This paper was researched while I attended the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

  • 15 no_slappz
    · Jan 2, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    Phyllis et. al:

    The major stressors and threats to health experienced by teachers in the public school system are greatly reduced, if not nonexistent, in most private schools.

    The government education monopoly is the chief source of the problems. As such, the state system is not capable of repairing itself. Therefore, the state must relinquish the responsibility for what it cannot manage successfully.

    All young people may have a right to an adequate taxpayer funded education, but no student has the right to stop others from receiving that education. But state control of education has created an environment where disruptive and dangerous students are protected — by the slow turning of the gears — at the expense of the better mannered kids.

  • 16 Chaz
    · Jan 2, 2006 at 1:14 pm


    How about giving me an example if your principal refuses to remove a disruptive student from your class when you asked mim/her?

  • 17 phyllis c. murray
    · Jan 2, 2006 at 5:02 pm

    RE.”How about giving me an example if your principal refuses to remove a disrutive student from your class when you asked him/her?”

    Dear Chaz:

    Effective September 2004 are Citywide Standars of Discipline and Intervention
    Measures which are mandated by the NYC Department of Education.

    The Citywide Standards of Discipline and Intervention Measure (The Discipline Code) provides the guidelines which we must follow in schools citywide. Hence, it is the Discipline Code which “sets forth a comprehensive description of unacceptable behavior, including incidents involving drugs or weapons, and the range of permissible disciplinary and intervention measures which may be utilized when students engage in such behavior; and a Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities that promotes responsible behavior and an atmosphere of dignity and respect by establishing guideline for appropriate and acceptable conduct, dress and language. ”

    Please note:

    “All entries in student records must be made in accordance with Chancellor’s Regulation A-820. All suspensions and removals from the classroom must be effectuated substantively and procedurally in accordance with relevant Regulations of the Chancellor, State Education Law and Federal Laws. Principals’ suspensions may be appealed to the regional superintendents and regional superintendents’ suspensions may be appealed to the Chancellor in accordance with Chancellor’s Regulation A-443.”

    The following discipline responses must be effectuated in accordance with all the procedural requirements of Chancellor’s Regulation A-443.

    “School personnel are responsible for developing and utilizing techniques and measures the promote optimal learning and address behaviors which negatively impact upon the education process. Toward that end, school personnel should develop plans and explore techniques for addressing a student’s behavioral problems and discuss these alternatives with the student and his/her parent. These plans might include the use of alternative instructional material and/or approaches, alternative classroom management techniques, remedial services, alternative class placement, guidance support, and services to address personal and family circumstances. For student with disabilities, functional behavioral assessments and behavioral intervention plan should be developed and/or reviewed as an early intervention strategy. If, at any time, school officials suspect that a student’s difficulties may be the result of a disability which may require special education services, the student should be referred immediately to the Committee on Special Education.”

    Please also note the following from the Discipline Code.

    A student who engages in behavior which is substantially disruptive of the education process or substantially interferes with a teacher’s authority over the classroom may be removed from the classroom by the teacher for 1-4 days.

    A principal has the authority to suspended a student for 1-5 days when a student’s behavior presents a clear and present danger of physical injury to the student, other students or school personnel, or prevents the orderly operation of classes or other school activities.

    Suspended students must be provided with alternative instruction including homework and class work.

    A Regional Superintendent’s suspension may result in a period of suspension that exceeds five days.

    (Please check the Disciplinary Responses on pages 19-21)

    Phyllis C. Murray

  • 18 Chaz
    · Jan 2, 2006 at 6:20 pm


    Thank you for your response. I am well aware that the teacher can have a student removed from the class for 1-4 days. However, reality is that when you try to remove a disruptive student, my administration won’t remove the student unless you follow their four step checklist.

    1. Did you talk to the student about his/her behavior at least three times and did you document it?

    2. Did you contact the parent and document it?

    3. Did you ask the AP to remove the student to talk to him/her after you did steps 1 & 2?

    4. Once the first three steps are followed and the student misbehavies, then the principal of my school will approve the removal of the student from the classroom for 1-4 days.

    Very few teachers have the time or discipline to follow the procedures. The result, the student stays in the classroom and disrupts the class.

    Do I need to follow this checklist which I object to? Can I remove a student when I need to?

  • 19 phyllis c. murray
    · Jan 2, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    You may need to contact your UFT Chapter Leader regarding this specific question.